Monday, January 31, 2011

Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run Part 2

Continuing my retrospective of Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run. Click here for Part One.

After battling the Fury Braddock Manor was ruined - or so the X-Men thought. They came back the next day to find the place as good as ever - with Brain and wife Meggan to greet them. Apparently the mansion is magical, or something. Who knows! Apparently Brain simply wasn't home when the Fury appeared. Something doesn't seem quite right, but the X-Men brush it off. While in England they get word that Queen has requested an audience with them. The group get all ready for a cordial visit to meet the Queen, but sadly are kidnapped on the way. Viper (aka Madam Hydra) wants revenge against the X-Men for the last time they met (in X-Treme X-Men), and she's bought used Murder World death-traps to kill them. This two-part story arch is drawn by Oliver Coipel who shows why he's risen to be such a favorite artist at Marvel. Viper's attack on the X-Men is quite brutal, ending with a cliffhanger where Viper actually does shoot Sage dead. Or, at least she thought it was Sage. Wolverine had smelled Viper earlier, and he switched places with Sage using a holographic imaging device. So Wolverine, with his healing factor, survives the gun shot. Viper apparently was in England not only to kill the X-Men, but also to kill Courtney Ross. Instead of fulfilling the hit on Miss Ross, Viper is invited to Ross' new revival of the Hellfire Club. Anyway - Viper is out of the picture, but she leaves a present behind, a Nuke for the X-Men to deal with. To be honest there was a lot of technobabble on how the X-Men where getting rid of this nuke, with Storm using her powers -- sometimes it just doesn't come across as clear to the reader. It was still a fun two issues.

The next two issue arch returned with Alan Davis on art. There seems to be a beginning flirtation between Nightcrawler and Rachel, who had long been team-mates before. Nightcrawler seemed very confused on this point, though the plot thread never really developed further.

Wolverine and Storm are set for a night on the town - but quickly get called in on a case. A bunch of mutant bashers, who where about to kill this young woman associated with a mutant, had been attacked and killed - and seemingly by claws like Wolverine's. Knowing that the press would forget all about the fact these guys where near to killing someone else, and only focus on a mutant having killed them, the X-Men needed to move quick find the killer. They track down the suspect, X-23, the girl clone of Wolverine. This is X-23's introduction into the X-Men's world. She's fearl and angry - and not about to trust the X-Men easily. In the course of trying to capture X-23, the young woman who was almost killed by the mutant bashers was found - and would be able to explain that X-23 had saved her life. The X-Men, and especially Wolverine, don't entirely know what to make of X-23 - but end up taking her to Xavier's while the case is pending. It was a fun and colorful adventure, stunningly drawn and colored - and Chris Claremont was handed Marvel's new character to sort of hold onto, while Marvel decided what they really wanted to do with her. She would eventually become a member of the New X-Men (the book focusing on the younger students at Xavier's), but until then Claremont got to use her and add her to the team.

Sage, for me, was one of the great highlights of Claremont's return to the X-Men. She was simply a great character, which made me sad to see her leave the team at the end of the X-Men's last adventure, apparently stepping back into her old life within the Hellfire Club.

The next story arch brought back the sorely missed Hellfire Club. It seems like ever since their defeat during the Dark Pheonix Saga they have never been quite the same again. They remained in the background during most of Claremont's original X-Men run - but beyond a battle and Magneto joining their ranks, it never the threat it once was.

With Sage abruptly missing, the other X-Men came looking for her - and found her trail lead to the boarded up Hellfire Club. Emma Frost, former White Queen of the Hellfire Club, joined them; though Rachel would have nothing to do with it. It seemed as if Claremont was having a bit of fun having Emma and Rachel clash against one another. Eventually Emma prevailed in joining the group - and she did prove helpful, revealing a teleport portal located next the Hellfire Club and known only to high-ranking members. The X-Men assume at this point that Sage would know they would come looking for her, and eventually find this portal - so the X-Men go into the transport portal. Along for the ride, escaping from her entrapment beneath the Hellfire Club, former member Selene was loose and evidently followed them.

The group ended up split apart. Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Bishop found themselves in Paris. Emma, Marvel Girl, and Selene found themselves in Japan, in an elegant castle/hotel where Viper and Courtney Ross waited for them. Emma took advantage of her former status as White Queen and challenged Ross, the apparent new White Queen, for the title. Meanwhile Rachel, disguised as the Emma's White Princess (bodyguard, or something) snuck around to find out what was going on in this place. Apparently this was a slavers ring, where people bid on mutants to keep as slaves. Along the way Rachel was confronted by Selene, who's shadow powers and abilities proved quite a challenge against Marvel Girl.

Meanwhile, in Paris, Storm and her group find the Sebastian Shaw, former leader of the Hellfire Club, and now leader of the new more friendlier version of the Hellfire Club. Sage was again at his right side, like she had been for years before as Xavier's spy within the Club. Shaw was also joined by Roberto Da Costa, aka Sunspot of the New Mutants. It made sense that Da Costa was there, since his father had been a member of the club and he was also a member. This entire scheme was essentially a coup for Shaw and his supporters to once again lead the Hellfire Club back to prominence. But - the major difference here being that this Hellfire Club would work for mutant rights, instead of just being a breeding ground for wealthy and evil. One of the club's first goals was to end the mutant slaving ring in Japan, which was why the Hellfire Club was there. Storm had great reservations about this, and implored Sage and Roberto to quit this foolishness. Yet Sage believed in this goal, and in the good she could do within the Hellfire Club again.

The machinations of her plans where finally explained, as Donald Pierce, White Bishop of the Hellfire Club, attacked with an army of technologically prepared soldiers. Pierce was human, but also a cyborg - and was a decidedly deadly match against Wolverine and Shaw. Pierce was attacking, not wanting to let Shaw get away with seizing so much power and leaving him out. The X-Men eventually beat him, and Sage's plan became clear: She had counted on Pierce attacking to stop Shaw - and had lead the X-Men here for the purpose of defeating Pierce and removing him as an obstacle. Likewise, the reason the two groups where separated was so Emma and Rachel could take down the Slaver's ring in Japan. The X-Men where not pleased about being so manipulated, but Sage was adamant in her decision.

While I thought Sage returning to Hellfire Club was interesting, it seemed all too quickly that she was leaving the team. I know that she later went on to be a member in Claremont's New Excalibur, and then the Exiles (both of which I haven't read) - so this might have been what Claremont had intended all along. Still, I wish he had decided to keep her.

The next story arch was a big one, 5-issues long. The X-Men get a big surprise - as they are called to Spain. This was the place where they had lost Psylocke. In the first three issues of X-Treme X-Men Claremont had killed her. He had intended revive her soon afterwords, but this was very poorly timed - as Marvel had instated a new policy of "Dead is Dead", and comic book resurrections where no longer to take place. This rule was lifted a while ago, and now Claremont was finally free to bring back everyone's favorite British/Asian/Ninja Psylocke back to life.

Psylocke's reappearance, though, was fraught with mystery. She had reappeared right where she had been killed (inside a government facility, no less) - so the X-Men had to take custody of Psylocke, but where very weary of her. Even for the X-Men, Psylocke was VERY dead. An autopsy had been preformed. Yet here she was - alive and well. Could she be an impostor? Speculation got side-tracked, though, as the X-Men responded to an emergency call from Wolverine's plane in the Savage Land.

The X-Men flew from Spain to the Antarctic, where the Savage Land, a perceptual dinosaur paradise was located. (The X-Men have visited here a lot) Wolverine had gone there for an old friend. Wolverine had been attacked, though, by a new group in the Savage Land: the Hauk'ka. Unknown to Wolverine, X-23 had snuck aboard his plane. After being attacked and separated from Wolverine, X-23 went back to the plane and sent the distress call to the other X-Men.

When the X-Men arrive they leave X-23 and Betsy (restrained) alone on the plane and go out searching for Wolverine. They eventually run into the Hauk'ka, evolved humanoid dinosaurs - so advanced they even had their own super-heroes. One of the Hauk'ka was a skilled telepath and was able to implant a thought into Marvel Girl's mind - making her think she was like them; a humanoid dinosaur. It worked like nothing else - as Rachel instantly turned against her friends and helped get them captured. The effect on Rachel wasn't just mental, either, as her powers of telekinesis enabled her to slowly start rearranging the DNA in her body, to help more reflect the appearance of a humanoid dinosaur, like she believed she was. This in effect became a cruel circle of effect, as her transforming appearance helped reinforce the original alteration in her mind, and vise-versa.

Meanwhile Hauk'ka soldiers came to the plane where Psylocke and X-23 where. X-23 freed Psylocke to help fight and defeat the enemies. They then decided to go and help their friends, who they now feared might be in danger.

The Hauk'ka had a simple goal - they wanted to take back the planet that originally belonged to them. They quickly found out, trying to keep Storm prisoner, how powerful her ability to command the weather was. The Hauk'ka saw an opportunity. Along with Rachel's tremendous powers - they figured they could use Rachel's abilities to amplify Storm's powers - and create world ending storms all across the world. Nightcrawler and Bishop soon broke free and where able to join with other outcast residents of the Savage Land to fight against the Hauk'ka. They also regrouped with Psylocke and X-23, and Psylocke found out something very surprising - her powers had changed since she last used them. Before she had died, Betsy had traded in telepathy for telekinesis. This was still in effect after her resurrection - but her telekinesis was now explosively more powerful - making her super strong.

The combined forces of the Savage Land and the X-Men attacked the Hauk'ka citidel, intent on stopping the Hauk'ka. The Hauk'ka had already begun their attack on the world, with Storm being forced by Rachel to create storms like she had never done before. The entire world was hit by devastating snow storms - so severe they would quickly become extinction events if not stopped. The X-Men even managed to convinced the Hauk'ka superheroes of their folly, as even the Savage Land was being frozen into oblivion. The Hauk'ka who had altered Rachel's mind released her - and it was as much a struggle to reign back in the storms as it was to create them.

The end of the world was everted, and the regretful Hauk'ka made peace with the other residents of the Savage Land. Rachel was slowly turning back to human and the X-Men where able to leave hoping the chance for peace with the Hauk'ka would last.

All in all this was a very fun story - but I quickly realized that Wolverine's disappearance had been completely forgotten. This story arch was also criticized, as it was somewhat derivative of the X-Men's last trip to the Savage Land, during an X-Treme X-Men Mini-series. I personally think Alan Davis simply wanted to draw humanoid dinosaurs again. He's drawn them many times before in alternate universes in the pages of Excalibur.

The next issue seemed like a resting point - as a lot of events in other X-Books had caught up during the previous 5-issue arch. Claremont did a beautiful job of tying it all in as we where lead through Betsy's perspective of returning to a very different Xavier Institute. A lot had changed since Psylocke had died. The X-Men where public now - and had a much larger group of children attending the school. Jean Grey had died - and Colossus had returned back to life. It became quite the running joke about deaths and resurrections. Chris Claremont had been opposed to the original revival of Jean Grey, feeling that it had cheapened the risk of death in comics. Still, since it did indeed happen - I think he's come to accept it, and even take advantage of it with Psylocke, but I believe he must have been somewhat annoyed at such a cluster of resurrections and deaths all over the X-Men map all at once. It seemed like anyone who died, it was only a matter of time that they came back to life. It was even mentioned that Northstar died as well, and sure enough he was brought back to life several months later. Wolverine being missing was also addressed, and I believe why he was suddenly taken out of the dinosaur storyline. In the pages of his book Mark Millar was writing a story where Hydra captured Wolverine and turned him against his friends. I simply don't know how he got from the Savage Land back to the Xavier Institute. (It's simply a lack of communication between writers and editors. Go figure.)

The X-Men next got an unpleasant visit by Mojo and Spiral. Juggernaut and Nocturne had been sucked into another dimension in another X-Men book - and had apparently been captured by Mojo. Mojo, a ruler of an alternate dimension dedicated to entertainment has been a longtime foe of the X-Men. Mojo also brought back another old favorite "The X-Babies" - where the X-Men are reduced in age to cute little kids. This was an adorable and fun issue where these young X-Men fought against Mojo. I don't know weather Claremont had been saddled with the fate of Juggernaut and Nocturne, or had asked to use them - but he really made them shine in this issue. Juggernaut was able to resolve some issues he had been dealing with, and Nocturne got to reunite with her alternate-dimensional father Nightcrawler. (Nocturne is from another reality where another Nightcrawler had a child with the Scarlet Witch. Even though they aren't really related, the two had apparently bonded.) Mojo was eventually defeated. It was just a fun and silly issue.

In part three of my retrospective, the Marvel Universe gets a make-over when it's turned into the House of M.

Click here for Part 3

Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run Part 1

Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men for 17 years. He didn't invent them, but he probably created and informed on nearly everything there is to know about them. He might actually have been on the title longer, if not for an increasingly difficult relationship with X-Men Editor Bob Harris, and Marvel's artist-centric approach to comics in the early 90s. Essentially Marvel began thinking that artists like Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and others, where the primary reason people where buying comics. This mentality encouraged a disasterious mess, where writing and plot became secondary to the artists Marvel where desperate to keep happy. Harris kept giving Jim Lee more control over the plots, eventually leading to Claremont quitting and handing in his final three issues, which launched the X-Men #1. (BTW, despite all their attempts to keep them happy, Marvel lost all of those famous artists when they left to form Image Comics.)

Anyway, Claremont didn't come back to the X-Men again for nearly a 100 issues. It was on issue #100 of X-Men that Claremont returned to Marvel and took over writing the X-Men again. Claremont wrote both Uncanny X-Men and X-Men for awhile, but failed to impress readers, as the two books felt disjointed and confusing. It wasn't the triumphant return everyone was expecting. Things did get better, though, as Claremont was able to launch a new book "X-Treme X-Men" - which was lavishly illustrated by Salvador Larroca. The new title specificly splintered this group of X-Men away from the other two titles, where Grant Morrison was making waves with his legendary run. Being able to focus on one title and not have to worry as much, as before, about interfering with other X-Titles, Claremont was able to bring back the magic that made his original X-Men stories so good. Characters like Storm, Rouge, Bishop, Sage and others really got to shine during these issues. Though this wasn't meant to last, as Salvador Larroca was taken away from the title after 24 issues for the failed Young Namor series. This really hurt the title despite the hard work from new artist Igor Kordey. The stories where good, but Igor Kordey, while a very quick and brilliant artist - is not what you'd consider a mainstream artist. The series seemed to take a nose dive; though, it did managed to last up to issue #46.

What I've recently been re-reading, though, is Claremont's third term as writer on Uncanny X-Men. X-Treme X-Men ended sometime shortly after Grant Morrison's run was over - and Storm's splinter group of X-Men rejoined the main group. These issues, Uncanny X-Men #444 to 474, delivered on a brighter and more optimistic follow up to X-Treme X-Men. I believe they are somewhat under appreciated. I know I didn't completely understand all the refrences to previous work by Claremont as I do now. Elements like from his runs on Captain Britain and Excalibur. Even his artist and co-author Alan Davis came onboard, reinforcing the more optimistic tone the series was aiming for, and delivering a lot of returning favorites to the X-Men universe.

The run started off spectacuarly, by resurrecting one of the most deadly foes in the Multiverse, an unkillable robot named "The Fury". This enemy was famously written by Alan Moore in the pages of Captain Britain - where Brian fought this monster, and was even killed by it. (Merlin stepped in and brought him back to life.) It was miracle the Fury was defeated at all. With this great villain due his long-awaited return, it seemed like the best return to form Claremont could have asked for new tenure on X-Men.

The cast that consisted of this group where mostly from X-Treme X-Men, like Storm, Bishop, Sage, and Cannonball with additions of Nightcrawler, and Wolverine. Rachel Summers was the biggest surprise, as she was earlier returned to X-Cannon near the end of X-Treme X-Men. With Jean Grey having died (again) at the end of Grant Morrison's run, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back her alternate-timeline daughter. And Claremont and Davis didn't miss a beat in redesigning her for a new audience. Rachel took on her mother's former code name "Marvel Girl" and appeared in a cheerful new costume reminiscent of her mother's. She also began referring to herself as Rachel Grey, instead of her father's name, in some form of protest against her father's affair and relationship with Emma Frost. Rachel's redesign was a smashing success - and probably the highlight of the entire run, as the character has been severely misused since she appeared in the pages of Excalibur.

Another element quickly established in this first arch was the X.S.E. (X-Treme Sanctions Executive) - an element carried over from X-Treme X-Men where the X-Men are dully authorized police in mutant affairs. This element cleaverly set Storm's X-Men apart from Cyclops and Emma's group of X-Men, allowing Mr. Claremont to continue being able to develop his group of X-Men with less interference from other writers. I think Claremont works best this way, though I also think he's one of the more deft writers in being able to adapt to changing circumstances. Several times during this run events from other books effected his - and he alway seemed to tie it in extremely well to his own narrative. It should be noted, though, that Storm's group of X-Men, being distanced from the regular group, showed quite a few times perhaps some annoyance Claremont had with many of the changes done to the X-Men that I believe he might never have entirely agreed with. The inclusion of Emma Frost as co-head the Xavier Institute was always ever present in consistent snarky remarks towards her.

The Fury first encountered Rachel, Bishop, and Cannonball while they where visiting Brain Braddock (Captain Britain) in England. Brain wasn't home, as the Fury was there instead to greet them. After initially beating the team down, the Fury hacked into the X-Men glasses/communication devices - and hacked into Sage's systems. Sage, to me, is probably one of the more intriguing X-Men to come along since Wolverine himself - as she's shrouded in mystery as a former member of the Hellfire Club, and apparent spy of Xavier's all along. She has a computer like brain and had set up an intercate computer system for the X-Men - all of which the Fury hacked into, and directly into Sage's mind. This was a great moment for the character, and her massive amount of knowledge was pitted against Storm, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler. They managed to defeat her while she also was able to finally break free of the Fury's control. The X-Men quickly departed to the Fury's location.

Meanwhile Cannonball was probably having his most spectacular fight he's ever been depicted in, as he fought tooth and nail to defeat the Fury. At first the Fury was able to penetrate Sam's invulnerable force field, which typically kept him from any harm when flying through the air. The Fury was able to break his leg. Cannonball was able to resist further attacks, and seemed to be winning against the Fury at several points. But the Fury is unstoppable for a reason - it always adapts and repairs. Sam was able to fly it directly into an exploding propane tank, but nothing would work. Sam was fighting a loosing battle, but he managed to hold it together long enough for the X-Men to arrive and join the battle. It was not an easy fight, but Sage, now knowing about the Fury from it's previous take over was able to devise a plan to destroy the Fury, once and for all. It was not easy - as even a small portion of the Fury surviving meant it would recover. It all came down to Rachel, who showed how devastatingly powerful she actually was - using her telekenisis to crush the Fury inside the event horizon of a black hole she created with her mind. Sage connected the powers and will of the other members to strengthen Marvel Girl, allowing Rachel to do the impossible - she shunted the Fury off into non-existence.

With Alan Davis' art, this four issue epic was just spectacular! There where many unanswered questions, though. No explanation was given as to where the Fury had come from, or how it had come back to life. A small hint was given, though, just when Rachel was about to defeat the Fury, she was able to see Jamie Braddock, mad reality warping older brother of Captain Britain and Psylocke, walking behind the scenes. He would prove to be at the center of a great deal of mysteries as this run progressed.

Sadly, after such a spectacular showing, Cannonball left the group without even a word or mention, as he had been recruited back with X-Force in a new mini-series.

I'll come back with part two of my retrospective of Chris Claremont's third Uncanny X-Men run.

Click here for Part 2

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wizard Magazine Ends

Wizard Magazine abruptly announced this week that it is immediately ceasing publication of their print magazines Wizard and Toyfare. I learned it on, who has been covering the story. I have been reading the magazine for years - and recently decided to save money by getting a subscription. While I can see why many are cheering on message boards about Wizard's downfall, I heartily have to disagree. Bleedingcool also had an article from a the now former Price Guide Writer. He was lamenting how people where happy to see Wizard die, even though it meant people like him where out of a job. He also brought up a great point:

"What I find so amusing about the posts here and on other sites is that the same people that ridiculed Alan Moore for his absurd criticisms of comics today, only to admit that he does not read any, is that those criticizing also proudly proclaim that they stopped reading ages ago. If they actually had read, they would know how absurd so many of their criticisms were."

I agreed with his point, and this was my response to that article, pretty much summing up my feelings on Wizard Magazine:

"That Alan Moore analogy is a good point to the naysayers cheering Wizard's downfall. I never really understood what people where finding so different in Wizard in comparison to previous years. Yeah, maybe they had 1 or 2 more Top 10 lists, and sometimes focused on movies a little bit more every so often to garner more attention, and I didn't like the fact the Letters section was unceremoniously scrapped - but it still provided good articles and highlights of the comic industry. In fact, when every one was bashing Wizard, I was reading articles about people in the industry I'd never known about - from promoters of early comic conventions, to tragic stories from troubled creators. I never knew a thing about Wally Wood before this year - but now shared in the sense of loss and appreciated, even while not knowing about, what he did for the industry and the lives he affected. Bill Finger also probably got more respect from an article in Wizard than he ever did in his career helping to form the foundation for freakin BATMAN!

It was a good magazine, and while Wizard was always the first to make fun of it's self as a provider of "lowest common denominator" fart and sex jokes - they also reported on some very humanizing stories to lesser known comic pioneers.

They also often times stepped up and exposed me to things in the comic industry that had gone unnoticed - for everyone complaining they only reported on the big two - I saw them pointing out a large number of indy books that I had never even heard of, even if it was a simple blurb with a small picture in the bottom right hand page.

I'm not saying people aren't entitled to their opinions, even if they had jumped ship years ago -- but just try and at least remember the good the magazine did before dancing on it's grave."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Windows Media Player Pause / Space Bar

Ever since I updated to Windows 7, I have had the perplexing experience of seeing probably the world's best Operating System (OS) - right alongside the world's worst update for the Windows Media Player.

See, in their latest update to Windows Media Player - Microsoft took away a simple and very valuable functionality: using the space bar to pause. I watch a lot of subtitled shows, so being able to instantly pause the screen at a moment's notice, and read text that might be going by too fast, is simply invaluable. For everyone else - it's just good for you if you're eating and watching a show on the computer; much easier to quickly tap the largest button the keyboard to pause, instead of getting crumbs on you're mouse or smaller harder to hit keys.

Anyway, I was deeply, deeply frustrated. It simply amazes me the level of stupidity that went into redesigning and taking away this simple and popular functionality. Apparently there was a reason - something to make the space bar not conflict with other functions. But MY WORD - allows us to set it in preferences, if you don't @#$%!ing mind!

Again, I was just frustrated. I thought maybe I could go back to my previous version of WMP, either 10 or 11 (I'm not sure when the Pause/Space Bar was taken out). I tried downloading it - but apparently Windows 7 thinks it knows better than you, and will not allow lesser versions to download. I then decided to uninstall WMP - and then put in the older and more reliable version. Nadda on that, too. Microsoft made this latest version of WMP a part of the Windows 7 OS. Soooo... what other options does that leave me? Microsoft Support directed me to a third-party video player, VLC. It seemed comprable to WMP - and it had my valued pause button! But this sadly would not last. VLC has just a litany of bugs and issues. Videos I watched would have stuttering audio - leading the sound and picture to be out of synch. I tried looking up an answer to it - but I couldn't find it. So - VLC just isn't reliable.

I once again went onto Google searching for an answer. I don't know what made me think I was going to find an answer this time, (I had gotten all those failed solutions doing this already) - but I went searching, and found a very interesting program. AutoHotKeys. I was weary of this at first - I didn't want to damage my computer by trying to change it. Then later - I found this article "Pause Windows Media with Space Using a simple AutoHotKeys Script" This blog post was also mentioning AutoHotKeys. So I decided to try and use it. They have an executable file to do it all for you, but my system didn't seem compatible. But you can download AutoHotKeys your self and then add the code he listed. First off - AutoHotKeys is very hard to understand for anyone not versed in computer. Follow the instructions it provides to create you're first "Hot Key" (it's essentially a page with code.) I erased the code that was already there and copied and pasted this guy's code. Saved it, double clicked on it to tell the computer to activate it - and boom! WMP is pausing just like the good old days.

Problem solved, right? Nope. Very close, but not yet. See - the code this guy offered did indeed pause WMP. But not when you brought it to full screen. (Like most people would want to do when watching a video or movie). I then found out it did pause in fullscreen; the problem was it wouldn't pause while the Information Display was up (the thing that shows the video's progress, volume, time, ect) Once that faded away - it could pause.

I could have lived with that, but luckily I stumbled around a bit to see if it couldn't be improved upon. I looked in the AutoHotKeys Help forum, and while I found some info - none of it was giving me the answers I needed. But, I began piecing together pieces of code - and found one that somebody said did work. I didn't completely understand the answer the guy seemed so satisfied with, because the code mentioned alone didn't help me. So then I added this code to the code from the aforementioned blog.

I don't know why it works, or what all the code means - but it works. It pauses WMP in fullscreen, with or without the information display. Finally, my journey as an aggravated consumer is finally over. ............ Well, the Music Section of WMP is crap now (since the update) too. But one crisis at a time ^_^

Also please note that, at least how I experienced this, when I shut my computer off and then on again - the script would stop working. (Just right click on it and tell it to run again). To ensure this script works all the time, I added it to my task scheduler, to begin working when the computer comes back on.

Here it is, just copy and paste this into AutoHotKeys. It worked for me. I hope it will work for you, but I cannot guarantee it. Again, just use the instructions on this guy's site here, but add the code here below instead.

GroupAdd,mplayer,Windows Media Player
GroupAdd, wmp, Windows Media Player
GroupAdd, wmp, ahk_class WMP Skin Host
GroupAdd, wmp, ahk_class WMPTransition
GroupAdd, wmp, FullScreenTopLayout
#IfWinActive, ahk_group wmp
Space::Send ^p
Enter::Send !{Enter}
#IfWinActive,ahk_group mplayer ; All hotkeys from this point only work when media player is active
#Ifwinactive, ; All hotkeys from now on work in any window.

; All other hotkeys

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Comic Review: Wolverine #5

Whatever you're beliefs, whatever religion you belong too - the concept of Hell is probably one of the most enduring and feared concepts still emblazoned in the psyches of westerners. For me, my religion does not regard Hell as a possibility, because we already chose to follow God to Earth instead of following the Devil. Our actions learned on Earth will determine the level of glory we'll be able to attain in Heaven - so the exclusion of Hell does not mean a free ride. So, if I believe Hell isn't a possibility - why am I so afraid of the depiction of Hell in this story. The Devil and Hell exist in my religion, so it is something for me to fear -- but since it's not an option after death, why does this story still scare me so much; especially when you consider how cliched and typical this depiction of hell is portrayed as? Usually I'd consider such a cliched "demons torture you for eternity" to not actually have enough "Bite" to actually be scary. Not saying the idea of demons torturing you for eternity is a pleasant idea, by any means, but it's so cartoonishly cliched that such a concept usually looses it's power. So again I ask - why is this book scary?

One word: "Detail." Wolverine's trip down into Hell is a gruesome, if cliched version of Hell - with a demonic and monstrous Devil, constant torture and torment, and all of you're sins being laid bare. It's seriously not original. But the pure and raw detail Jason Arron brings to this story is what sells it. The first page of this issue details the typical torments Logan has had to endure while trapped in the underworld. It's so obscenely nuanced - with unoriginal yet utterly colorful descriptions that continually add to this etherial mental picture of hell and all it can unleash upon you're soul. It's damn depressing, when you get down to it. This entire five issue arch "Wolverine Goes to Hell" has been utterly depressing. BUT - within that depressing and scary atmosphere a good story is being weaved. With vicious and unrelenting detail - the story's setting, while not X-Rated by any means, is mentally tiring; but it's quality writing worthy of that tiredness. The story is further elevated by Renato Guedes detailed artwork. His art wonderfully expands on the sorry and woeful predicament Logan is in.

I actually haven't had much experience with Jason Arron as a writer. I've heard many good things about him, and about his ability to create a living and breathing world that seems truly alive. I didn't read his Weapon X series, so I was somewhat fearful of walking into a storyline I didn't know anything about. The series, starting with a new #1, didn't exactly have an easy entry either - as Wolverine was simply and suddenly trapped in hell, without much explaination as to how he got there. I thought the recent Vampires vs X-men storyline had something to do with it. Not so -- and this issue finally gives us the explanation of how this happened to Wolverine in a back-up story "How It Started", which has a decent and surprising revelation. As to "why" this has happened to Wolverine - the next story arch will no doubt be dealing with that. For now, people out for revenge against Wolverine is an easy enough explanation to grasp.

Like I said before, I hadn't read the previous Weapon X series, and thus only had other people's word on how good Jason Arron was as a writer. Did he live up to the hype? Yes - he definately did. The first issue, in particular, featured Wolverine's old friend John Wraith. He probably hasn't appeared in any X-Men issues for years. But his brief return to Wolverine's world was both touching and true. Even though Arron killed him, and has subseqently been murdering a long list of Wolverine's friends and assossiates - it's never felt like a sales ploy, or a tactic to surprise the reader. It's all felt wonderfully organic to the main storyline. Everything about this series has just been spot on - especially in regards to the characterization of Wolverine himself. Wolverine has a very unique voice, and while it's easy enough for many writers to send him on an adventure - getting into his head, well, he's been depicted by so many other creators that fans will always know whenever he's being written wrong. Arron not only writes Wolverine in spot-on fashion, but I think he's become the new offical voice of the character. No one has gotten Wolverine's personality this accurate. This issue in particular shines as an example of that, as Wolverine is met by his biological father. He tells Wolverine how proud he is, because of what a superb killer he's become. Wolverine's reaction to this is just perfect; he gives up claim to the throne of hell, ruining his father's plans - essentially doing the right thing. Wolverine has never wanted to be a killer - and he's always strived to do the right thing, even though the right thing, for him, has been killing. So it was very in character for Wolverine to not only give up throne to hell, but also push away his father who had the worst idea of praise for a son possible. Wolverine later reflects that he is indeed his father's son, a born killer - but it's obvious that Wolverine doesn't aspire to that. That's why, even though Wolverine does indeed believe he deserves to be in hell - he ultimately doesn't deserve it.

The other half of this story involves Mystique, two Ghost Riders, the Son of Satan, and Wolverine's girl friend Melita working to reverse the curse on Wolverine's body, and put his soul back where it belongs. Their mission is successful, but not in the way they where expecting. There's still more to this storyline, which is going to be followed up in Wolverine vs the X-Men. Wolverine has escaped Hell, but his suffering isn't over yet. With Wolverine issues being this well written, the depressing and scary atmosphere of hell has been worth it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Who Will Be the New Venom?

I usually don't like guessing games in comics. Not that is can't be fun, trying to figure out who a certain character really is - but it's been so over used in recent years that I've grown tired of it; the "Who is the Red Hulk" being the most recent and worst example of all. Yet sometimes they do it right. A new Venom series is coming out this March, and while Marvel is heavily taking advantage of no one knowing who the new host might be - Marvel is at least coming clean about it soon, with an introduction and expiation in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man in February. So it got me thinking who this new Venom is actually going to be.

Venom History

First off, the first and best Venom will always be Eddie Brock. He encountered the Symbiote after Spider-Man forced the shape-shifting creature off of himself. Sharing a hatred for Spider-Man, Brock and the Symbiote complimented each other well. The Symbiote not only gave Brock all of Spider-Man's former powers - but also all the knowledge of his real identity. Spider-Man was facing a true dark reflection of himself. He fought and tormented Spider-Man for many years, becoming wildly popular with fans. While the Symbiote was essentially a scorned and angry creature, Brock eventually wielded the suit well enough to enforce his version of justice. This lead Venom to being an Anti-Hero. He considered everyone else innocents - everyone but Spider-Man; but he even eventually made a truce with Spider-Man, leading to his own adventures.

Years later, and after being severally mis-utilized and over exposed - I think Marvel had a hard time using Venom effectively. They tried returning him from an anti-hero back to being a straight up villain, but it all felt false considering his former, if twisted, perception of justice. Marvel eventually opted for the revelation that Brock had cancer - and the Symbiote was the only thing still keeping him alive. Also - it was revealed that Brock hadn't been in control of the Symbiote in a long time.

Not knowing exactly how to use Venom without Brock in control, though, proved problematic. Marvel tried a new series with a new Venom who jumped from host to host, attempting to create and air of horror and mystery. It didn't work out well. Eventually it was revealed the whole series was following a dissected copy of the real Symbiote, and eventually remerged it with the real Venom.

Marvel decided to try and change things - and removed the suit and tried to let Eddie die. It wasn't very effective, though, as Eddie was brought back, surviving an attempted suicide - and the Venom suit was passed along to the less popular villain Mac Gargan, aka the Scorpion. I think this really pushed Marvel into a corner, as Gargan simply wasn't good enough as Venom - and all attempts to try to make Gargan like the old Venom ultimately failed. He became a one-note villain, eating people in a vain attempt to stay edgy and relevant. Worse still, he simply became a lackey for Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) as part of the Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers.

Eddie Brock was simply a seemingly necessary part of the equation, which Marvel couldn't easily put back together. Combining him with the Symbiote again would simply be cruel to Brock, and also not solve the problem of Brock being primarily in charge. So Dan Slott came onto Amazing Spider-Man with a brilliant idea: Anti-Venom. After being touched by the villain Mr. Negative, a new opposite version of the Symbiote was born and bonded to Eddie Brock. Anti-Venom is literally poison to the regular Symbiote - and it gave Brock back his strength and sense of purpose. He's again an Anti-Hero. Not entirely well used, with a mini-series failing to gain traction -- but I still hold out hope Marvel can make good use to this new direction for Brock.

Now, as for Gargan - the symbiote it was removed from him, and he's going to become the Scorpion again. So who is the new Venom host going to be?

Well, so far it's been indicated that the new host is already a supporting character in Spider-Man's life. This new Venom is also going to be used as a weapon by the government, attached to a host who will carry out missions around the world. He's essentially going to be the Venom equivalent of James Bond. A new military Venom design has been revealed - though it looks like he might still revert to the tongue-wagging version when the Symbiote gets out of control. (It's apparently not going to be an amicable alliance.

So, who in Spider-Man's world is going to be the New Venom?

Vincent Gonzales

Everyone seems to be picking Vincent Gonzales as the odds on favorite. He was introduced into Spider-Man's universe as a cop who disliked the web-slinger. It was eventually revealed that Gonzales was faking evidence to make it look like Spider-Man was a killer - and he went to jail. He recently was released sporting a new Green Goblin tattoo, so I don't know how that would work with the series. It seems to me Gonzales could easily work as the new Venom host - as the government might give him a second chance to do good. Best of all, with his past conviction and the reason he went to jail, the government would know he isn't afraid to get his hand dirty when trying to achieve his goals.

John Jameson

I, however, don't personally think it's going to be Gonzales. My top pick for the new host is John Jameson, son of J. Jonah Jameson. Why Jameson? The new writer and artist of the Venom series recently had a good run re-developing a deceased Punisher as Franken-Castle. This points to a taste in goofy horror - which John Jameson can easily provide. See, John has long since had these on-again off-again powers to turn into the Man-Wolf. A Venom-themed Man-Wolf just seems too perfect a combination for this creative team! Think of it; the Man-Wolf powers aren't a constant affliction, so it wouldn't prevent Jameson from being a host. Plus it would be a twisted kind of irony if Jameson was Venom - as his father J. Jonah Jameson has always been elevating his son as a true hero, in comparison to Spider-Man. Being a Spider-Man look-alike would instantly give some family tension to the equation. Also, John Jameson has military experience, being a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force -- so becoming the Government's latest secret agent wouldn't me much of a stretch. If there's anyone on this list I'm betting on, it's Colonel John Jameson!

Flash Thompson

Another choice could be Flash Thompson. An ardent fan of Spider-Man, Flash has always idolized the web-slinger; so a chance to be a hero like Spider-Man wouldn't be a stretch. He's in the military, having served in Iraq, so experience in special covert operations isn't outside his skill set. The only problem, though, is that he lost his legs in Iraq. He's become quite notable for this in recent years - having sacrificed so much for his country. So how could Flash possibly be the new Venom host without legs? Well, the Symbiote has always shown an ability to grow and be physically larger than it's host (on Gargan the suit would balloon to twice or three times his normal size) - so it could be possible the Symbiote could fill-in for those missing limbs. Flash would have mobility again, and get to serve his country as a Spider-Man themed Super Spy.

I wouldn't count on it being Flash, though. It is still a pretty "out-there" theory to put someone as disabled as him in such a psychically demanding position. Plus it would probably be somewhat disrespectful to take such a real condition, a reality-based character in Spider-Man's life, and switch his story in such a manner.

Randy Robertson

My last pick for the new Venom host would be Randy Robertson, son of Daily Bugle Editor Robbie Robertson. Dan Slott has said he's specifically trying to bring Randy back into Spider-Man's world, as he was severely under utilized until now. Could there be even bigger plans, to make Randy the new Venom host? He might not have military or law enforcement experience like the other characters - but he's fresh-faced enough to be a youthful and inexperienced hero as the New Venom.

So, who will play host to the new Symbiote? We'll all find out this February in the special "Point 1" issue of Amazing Spider-Man #654.1. That issue has been tailored to be a perfect jumping on point for either Amazing Spider-Man or the new Venom ongoing series due in March. While we're still not going to get the original Brock/Symbiote dynamic -- I am very excited for this new series. Rick Remender wowed me with his nuanced and dynamic take on Uncanny X-Force - so I'm expecting good things from this second 90s character reinterpretation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fantastic Four: Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca

I think Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca's run on the Fantastic Four is an underrated part of the Fantastic Four's history. I only came onto the book during the tail end of their run, but quickly feel in love with Marvel's First Family - mostly because Chris Claremont was a writer I was familiar with (X-Men), and I already had a passing familiarity with the FF because of the Animated Cartoons. For me this was my first exposure to Salvador Larroca's art as well - and I was deeply impressed. Apparently Marvel was as well, as after this run and a run drawing X-Treme X-Men - Marvel began putting Larroca on higher profile books. Right now it seems like he's an artistic juggernaut, doing the art on Invincible Iron Man.

This appears to have been a precarious time for the FF, coming off the heels of the Heroes Reborn event, where Jim Lee came onboard to help revive the canceled FF series. After Heroes Reborn, the series got a second new #1 in as many years, with the tag-line "Heroes Return". This was the FF finally getting back to having regular adventures. Some things where different, though. The Baxter Building had been destroyed, forcing the FF to live in their Pier 4 Harbor property. This new series was written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Alan Davis - but it didn't last long. I don't know what happened that forced that creative team to jump ship - but after three issues they where gone, replaced by Claremont and Larroca. Walking in on already begun plot-lines, Claremont and Larroca had their work cut out for them.

Claremont and Larroca brought us some amazing and fresh new plot-lines, while also harkening back to older FF history. New, old, and re-imagined characters where brought out month after month, forging a strong new era for the FF - and not relying on rehashing the same old plots. The characters pictured above are only a few of the fantastic returning and new characters that where brought into the FF's lives; Ronan the Accuser - alien Kree enemy from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's days, Caledonia - an alternate dimensional Scottish Warrior who befriended the FF and became Franklin Richard's nanny, and Lady Dorma - a dark reflection of Namor's wife, coming from another Earth, this Lady Dorma was a powerful Atlantean Warlord who ran afoul the FF quite a few times. Claremont also utilized characters and concepts from previous comics he's done over the years - like Captain Britain from Excalibur. (A lot of Captain Britains, in fact!)

Chris Claremont's run on the FF seemed to culminate when I officially began collecting the series - with a larger over-arching plot-line involving Doctor Doom. The FF got a great addition to their cast, named Marvel Girl - a young woman claiming to be Susan's daughter Valeria. But Sue's daughter originally hadn't been born; the Invisible Woman's second child had been stillborn. Worse still - this Valeria had a disturbing last name "Doom". She claimed the Invisible Woman and Doctor Doom where her parents. And this Doctor Doom was a hero, apparently. What the Heck? Was she from the future? We certainly know it's possible she came from another dimension.

Being naturally cautious, the FF didn't know at first what to make of this new Marvel Girl. At first Susan Richards was incensed at the idea of this impostor claiming to be her dead baby. But Marvel Girl eventually won them over. They still didn't know what to make of her - but she became a great new member of the team.

Doctor Doom made his triumphant return to Earth (he was ruling Counter-Earth at the time) and he brought an army along with him. This army had the power and technology to take over the entire planet, with four different generals at his side. But around this time reality began to go haywire - which eventually boiled down to a begrudging team-up between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom, in a fight against the Dreaming Celestial. Susan Richards was shocked to see only Doctor Doom coming back from the battle. Where was her husband? Turns out, the Dreaming Celestial changed things around on Reed and Doom at the last minute as revenge. Doom was sent back to Counter-Earth with nothing but his wits to survive. Reed was actually trapped inside Doctor Doom's armor, and couldn't get it off.

A rather large masquerade had to be preformed, with Reed having to make the world think he really was Doctor Doom. They needed to do this to help keep control of Doctor Doom's army, and especially against Doom's generals. It was a tricky balancing act, as Doom seemingly joined with the Fantastic Four, and even took the supposedly grieving Susan Richards to be his wife. This didn't entirely sit well with Doom's generals, but they where eventually brought under control.

The Marvel Universe was shocked by these events, seeing the Invisible Woman marrying the greatest villain on the planet. Yet the masquerade had to be maintained. Without Doom, the Generals would seize power and devastate Earth.

So for a short period the FF was led by Doctor Doom. Reed tried all he could to free himself from the armor - but the Dreaming Celestial, and Doom's own programming, made that impossible. For Marvel Girl, this seemed to be a confirmation of her past - explaining why a good Doctor Doom was her father. Soon, though, it became evident that everything wasn't OK. Reed would often fall into rants similar to Doom's. It call came to a head when Susan, one late night, discovered Reed without the Armor's mask on. See, the Armor had a variety of enchantments and defenses built into it. Anyone who actually managed to wear the armor of Doom - would become like Doctor Doom.

Reed took the family to live it Latvaria, where Reed's duplicity was quickly becoming more and more prevalent. Yet Susan (now the Baroness von Doom) gained an unlikely ally: the real Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom has on occasion said that he can survive anything; Apparently he survived his return trip to Counter-Earth and wanted to get back to regular Earth. Speaking with Susan through dream-time they both collaborated on getting Doom back to Earth and confronting Reed Richards - to force the Armor off of Reed. Susan would get her husband back and Doom would get his Kingdom back. A battle ensued, and everything worked out more or less according to plan.

That was the big final arch of Claremont and Larroca's run together on the Fantastic Four. Together they both went on to write and draw X-Treme X-Men.

Valeria's storyline didn't get to be completed under Claremont's run, but was eventually dealt with by future writers. To make a long story short - Franklin Richards had used his reality altering powers to save his baby sister, and sent her "elsewhere" - to a possible future where Doom and the Invisible Woman where her parents. It was during a large cosmic adventure that things where set right - and Franklin used his powers to restore Valeria back before she died being born - the Invisible Woman was pregnant again, and was given another chance to give birth to Valeria.

While this run didn't seem to get the critical acclaim it deserves (I can hardly find anything on the internet even mentioning this run) - I am wholly delighted to have discovered it, and to have had it as my introduction to the Fantastic Four. It was really the wedding, of the Invisible Woman and Doctor Doom, that was what initially caught my interest. I'm very happy it did.